Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Research Assisted by: Debby
Thousands of horses have been filtered through British Columbia and Alberta auctions in the last few months, often with up to 80% being purchased by kill buyers at some auctions. I’ve chosen to focus on resources for rescuers attending auctions in these two provinces due to the magnitude of criticism and complaints, and because the sheer volume of horses being sent to auctions in BC and Alberta is surely on a par with the biggest horse auctions in the US, such as Billings.
Many horses are registered, sound, very rideable, beautiful, kind, and healthy, while others are unhandled, thin or emaciated, unwell, pregnant, or are injured. Those with injuries will endure unspeakable torture once jammed in a trailer with unfamiliar horses on their final trailer ride. The corruption at these auctions has created an intense divide between the horse rescuers who have been organizing to save these horses – abuse and neglect are untended or unreported, poor quality hay is the rule rather than the exception, and bidders are routinely ignored in favour of kill buyers. Because of negative publicity, photography has been forbidden at most auctions. Many rescuers want to object to the treatment of horses and bidders at the auctions, while others are adamant that the general public will be banned from attendance if they upset the proverbial apple cart. We’re used to taking photographic evidence freely in public spaces but sale barns are private property. They do however, have their own “codes of conduct, ethics, and constitution” that they are supposed to adhere to, in theory at least. Service Alberta also produces a tip sheet on auctions that clearly states that “The business is responsible for the actions of its employees and agents.”
I really believe that we need to be careful what we allow, as it is what will continue. In many ways we teach others how to treat us (and the horses). While auctions aren’t responsible for the condition in which horses arrive, they and the appropriate SPCA or veterinarian should be prepared to act in the event horses meet the requirements for being “unfit for transportation.”
Even if we are willing to overlook how the auctions treat us individually as patrons, we should not overlook the care of animals in their custody. My own opinion is that I would report neglect and abuse of an animal not only for that animal and future animals, but because it sometimes involves domestic violence on another level. Many animal abusers have records for other crimes.
Auction houses are *supposed* to conduct auctions transparently and in particular they should announce how the sale of an animal or tack is completed – it could be the bang of a hammer or the word “sold.” Until the sale is completed you can retract a bid, however, once the sale is completed you are responsible for paying. While employees of the business are allowed to bid on items, they are not allowed by bid on items they do not intend to buy. Auctions should make an announcement at the beginning of a sale if an employee will be bidding. And finally, if you purchase a horse and need to keep him temporarily on site until shipping is arranged, do make sure that any administration charges, pricing arrangements, and commissions are in writing.
There is ample recourse for patrons of livestock markets to remonstrate against abuse or refusal of bids within the national and local auction networks in Canada and Alberta/British Columbia (and other provinces) and separate processes by which complaints about animal mistreatment can be made.
The Livestock Markets Association of Canada
The Livestock Markets Association of Canada is a non-profit association of livestock marketing businesses. Members of the Livestock Markets Association of Canada: (Alberta) Includes Westlock, Dawson Creek, and Innisfail auction houses among others. Vold Jones Vold (VJV) operates Dawson Creek, Beaverlodge, Ponoka, Rimbey, and Westlock. The British Columbia members include Valley Auction among others. Please see the website for information on other provinces.
The LMAC tells us that their members support the following code:
“As a member of the Livestock Markets Association of Canada, this marketing business pledges to uphold the following marketing standards and principles. We pledge to:
- To promote the Auction Method of livestock marketing as an integral part of the Livestock Marketing business.
- To promote the auction method as open competitive price discovery. (To me this suggests that they, in least at theory, would not close off their auctions to the public)
- To promote fair and open competition while providing factual, accurate and honest market reporting, with actual volume and prices. To strive to accurately describe and represent all animals consigned.
- To provide proper training to employees to ensure humane handling and the proper care of all livestock consigned. To develop safe handling practices that ensure both animals and market staff are treated under the best possible safety standards, ensuring a safe working environment for all employees, buyers, and/or consignors.
- To work in co-operation with all government bodies, at all levels to advocate the enactment of appropriate laws, whether statute, regulation, or policy, affecting the marketing of livestock. To ensure that regulations that apply to the marketing sector are market neutral. To protect the marketing industry from over regulation that would negatively affect the speed of commerce and needlessly harm the industry.
- To provide and maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity in all transactions while treating all contributors and buyers in a fair and equal manner.
- To maintain a sound financial basis by assuring that full payment is made to sellers and received from buyers, in accordance with the provincial payment regulations.
- To protect the producers’ right and freedom to choose what method, manner, means and location they use to market their livestock.”
Is there recourse here for auction attendees who have not been treated fairly? Possibly. Without testing this creed we simply don’t know how responsive to complaints they are or how seriously they will consider them.
Alberta Auction Markets
In addition to this national group, there is also an Alberta based association – Alberta Auction Markets Association and they also have a Code of Ethics in which they state that they will give “honest service to all patrons of auction markets.”
“AIMS – OBJECTS – ETHICS
- To promote the general welfare of the members in regard to business, social, recreational and all other activities pertaining to the general improvement of the Auction Markets.
- Factual, accurate and honest market reporting with actual volume and prices.
- To provide open and fair competition.
- To give equal treatment to all contributors and buyers.
- To work in co-operation with all governing bodies, at all levels.
- Honest service shall be given to all patrons of auction markets.”
Also available are a number of government resources that outline the responsibilities of public auction businesses:
Province of Alberta Animal Health Act Livestock Market Regulation
For those who would like to complain about the conditions of paddocks, feed, and water at an auction, here are the relevant regulations:
“7(1) The operator shall keep an accurate record of each transaction relating to livestock that takes place at a livestock market,including(a) the livestock owner’s name, address, telephone number and premises identification number, (b) for horses, cattle and sheep, the number, colour, kind and brand or identifier as recorded in the livestock manifest required under the Livestock Identification and Commerce General Regulation (AR 208/2008),
(c) for livestock other than the livestock referred to in clause (b), the number, species, sex and livestock identifier, if available, and if the livestock identifier is unavailable, a description of each head of livestock, and (d) the name, address and telephone number of each purchaser of livestock.
Sanitation and other requirements
14 The operator of a livestock market shall, with respect to that livestock market, (a) provide an area where vehicles used to transport livestock to the livestock market may be cleaned by removing manure and bedding, (b) keep the livestock market free of all litter, refuse and weeds to the satisfaction of an inspector, (c) provide an area for the storage of all manure and soiled bedding in such a manner that livestock cannot have contact with it, (d) dispose of all manure and soiled bedding in such a manner that livestock cannot have contact with it for a minimum of one year, (e) provide suitable bedding that is clean, dry and adequate to meet the needs of the species and age of the livestock using it, (f) comply with the requirements of the Disposal of Dead Animals Regulation respecting the disposal of dead animals, and (g) control the fly population to the satisfaction of an inspector.
Cleaning and disinfecting
15(1) An operator must thoroughly clean the areas of the livestock market that are used by livestock, which includes scraping out or removing bedding and manure after each sale or assembly of livestock.
(2) An operator must clean the livestock market if ordered to do so by an inspector.
(3) An operator must thoroughly disinfect the livestock market if ordered to do so by an inspector
20 No operator shall make or require or permit an employee or a person who is under contract to the operator to make any statement or representation or publish information in any form that misrepresents or misleads any person or is likely to misrepresent or mislead any person with respect to the health or condition of livestock at a livestock market.”
Additional resources that may respond to complaints about conduct or animal neglect at auctions:
If you are considering reporting you must let conscience be your guide. It’s possible that auctions can be prevailed upon to correct some issues on their own when approached. If you’re planning to report, consider the number of problems, the severity/urgency, and the duration of the problem. What is the attitude of the staff if you do approach them? Are they indifferent (or worse)?
It may be impossible to obtain photographs if the sale barn has banned them and are watching (while they can ask you to leave, they cannot confiscate your camera or phone or detain you against your will). If reporting an incident, contact your local humane authority or provincial/national regulatory authority. Lastly, familiarize yourself with the the Criminal Code, National Codes of Practice for equines, and the Health of Animals Act. Thank you horse warriors……